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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 16:45 GMT
Hi-tech US warplane project in doubt
Osprey MV-22
The Osprey MV-22 has only just come into service (courtesy US Navy)
The fate of a revolutionary US military aircraft programme hangs in the balance after the second fatal crash this year.

The commandant of the US Marine Corps has grounded all MV-22 Osprey aircraft following a crash in North Carolina which killed four Marines.

General James L Jones also asked Defence Secretary William Cohen to convene a panel of experts to review the troubled $40bn programme, said a Marine Corps spokesman.

The Osprey MV-22
Capable of 640 kph (400 mph)
Altitude up to 25,000ft
Can carry 24 troops
Full deployment by 2015
The plane went down on Monday night in a wooded area north of the Marine Corps New River Air Station at Jacksonville in south-eastern North Carolina.

The previous Osprey crash took place in Arizona in April, resulting in the loss of 19 lives.

The Pentagon was due to decide this month whether to begin full-scale production of the Osprey, but the spokesman said General Jones now wants the decision put off "until further information is gathered" regarding the North Carolina crash.

Only last month, General Jones said he expected the Pentagon would authorise full-scale production of the Osprey.

"I'm confident it should be approved, and I've seen nothing to lead me to believe that it won't," he said.

Evaluation

The tilt-rotor aircraft was introduced in September 1999, and is undergoing final evaluation.

It flies like a plane but can land and take off like a helicopter.

Firefighters at the crash scene
The first Osprey crash happened in April
Its two propjet turbines power two huge propellers.

The Osprey flies at twice the speed, has twice the range and can carry heavier loads than the Vietnam-era CH-46 helicopters it will replace in the Marine Corps' inventory.

Military planners see the aircraft as a means of getting more troops and pilots safely out of danger zones.

On search and rescue missions, the aircraft can fly long distances at low altitudes, and hover to pick up survivors.

But there have been criticisms of the plane's cost and safety.

Early safety concerns plagued the aircraft, but the manufacturers - Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing - say modifications from the original design have made it lighter and safer.

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See also:

09 Apr 00 | Americas
Osprey: A revolutionary aircraft
09 Apr 00 | Americas
US military trial plane crashes
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